(from "Absolutely Sweet Marie," Blonde on Blonde)
Keep your robins and crocuses (crocii?). For me, the surest sign of spring is walking into a grocery store and seeing a box of Official Royals Pocket Schedules. It's one of my favorite rituals: folding the schedule just so, checking out the promotions, seeing who the Royals play on my birthday, picking out which games I'd like to see.
The Amazing Michelle likes to tease me about my Monkish personality (the TV show, not men who have taken a vow of silence), and I must confess, the look of a pocket schedule is ideal for a perfectionist like me. A rectangle for each month, divided into perfect little squares. Opponents and times centered perfectly.
And of course, looking at all those games at once is a great vehicle for the imagination. Will those games in September mean something? Can the Royals get off to a 2003-like start? I've been looking at my pocket schedule for a couple of weeks now and have come to some conclusions.
With a 162-game season, complaints about the schedule are not nearly as prevalent as they might be in, say, the NFL. Playing everyone multiple times tends to even out the effects of luck. Still, I like that the Royals get to play the Yankees early, while A-Rod is still hurt and guys like CC Sabathia may still be rounding (Ha!) into shape. I like that the Royals' road games in July and August look to be almost exclusively in non-heatstroke-inducing places like Detroit, Boston and Seattle. Only a four-game series in Baltimore, where weather.com says the average high temperature is 91° on the days in question, could be bad. I don't know of any sabrmetric breakdown of gametime temperatures affecting team performance, but perhaps it will keep the team fresher for the stretch run. Hey, if the division race is going to be as close as most think, any advantage could help.
I think the schedule sets up pretty well for the Royals. Luckily, I think they are as good or almost as good as the rest of the AL Central, so I believe there aren't too many stretches where they will be playing teams who are obviously better. As any Royals fan knows, long losing streaks have been a KC specialty throughout this decade. It only takes one of those double-digit streaks to remove a team from contention, even in a division where 88 wins might be enough for a title. Just look at last year, when a 12-game slide in late May took the team from 1.5 games out to 9 games out.
Of course, losing streaks are more a function of how you play than who you play, but obviously a road trip to Boston, New York and Tampa Bay is going to be tougher than one to Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago, even though those are good teams too. I see two stretches that worry me: June 2-11 (three games each at Tampa Bay, Toronto and Cleveland) and July 27-August 3 (four-game series in Baltimore and Tampa Bay). I also see two stretches that intrigue me: August 11-19 (three-game series in Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago) and September 11-20 (three-game series in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago). These last two groups could be pivotal in a close race. The first two worry me because the Royals have really struggled in recent years against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, and a four-game series in Toronto was the meat of that 12-game skid last year. A big key for the Royals this year will be avoiding long losing streaks, and I think these are the potential trouble spots.
On the other hand, one area where the Royals have done well in recent years is interleague play. In this regard, I think the Royals have a chance to succeed again. KC gets Cincinnati, Arizona and St. Louis at home and goes to St. Louis, Houston and Pittsburgh. So they get the (presumably) tougher teams at home. They may not be 13-5 against the NL like in 2008, but they should be able to pick up several interleague wins in 2009.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go look for my pocket schedules from previous seasons. I didn't know this, but I should have realized it: there are people out there who collect these. And plenty of eBay auctions, although it doesn't look like anyone's getting rich off them. But hey, if someone is willing to bid on a 2009 Royals pocket schedule you can pick up for free at Hy-Vee, maybe it's time to dig through the basement in search of treasure.